As the Suns embark upon the second game of their second back to back to back of the season, the college basketball world celebrates the first full day of the NCAA Tournament and the rest of the NBA digests the comings and goings (and *yawn* nothings from certain teams) of the trade deadline.
On the Suns last B2B2B, a disappointing loss in Oakland to the Golden State Warriors was followed by a St. Valentine's Day massacre at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, a game in which the Suns rested Steve Nash and Grant Hill. The Suns then went all in for the final game of the set, but lost at home to the Atlanta Hawks 101-99.
That stretch in mid-February was the Suns last losing streak. Starting with their February 19th stomping of the Lakers (oooh, that felt so good), the Suns have won 8 of 11, with the three losses being tight, winnable games.
Are the Suns finally turning the corner? Tonight's game against the Clippers in LA will provide another good barometer of how much progress this team has made. That's assuming the Suns don't wave the white flag by sitting Nash and Hill as they did in the second game of last month's B2B2B, which is definitely possible.
Update 6:35 AZ time: Nash and Hill won't play tonight, according to AZ Central's Paul Coro.
Gentry confirms the
#Suns will hold out Nash & Hill tonight in 2nd of back-to-back-to-back. Still debating starters.
@ Los Angeles Clippers
Thursday, Mar 15, 2012, 8:30 PM MDT
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The Clippers have not come out of the All-Star break as hot as the Suns, winning only 4 of 10 with one of the losses coming in a strange, ugly 81-78 loss in Phoenix, a game the Suns won despite shooting only 35% from the field. Channing Frye played one of the more bizarrely effective games I've ever seen, shooting 2-18 from the field but grabbing 14 rebounds and playing generally un-Frye-like stout defense on Blake Griffin, holding the rising star to 6-19 shooting.
It's hard to imagine the Suns following that blueprint to victory again but given their recent offensive explosiveness, they might not have to. In somewhat of a landmark achievement for this season's sputtering Suns, they now have all five starters averaging double figure scoring, are up to 8th in the league in pace and are in the top half of the league at 14th in PPG with 96.2.
Jared Dudley and Frye have been the keys to Suns success and the one-time bench studs, now starting, have picked up their games lately, especially Dudley. Check out JYD's basic stats per game in March:
- 21 pts, 4 rebs vs. Utah
- 28 pts, 9 rebs vs. Minnesota
- 19 pts, 7 rebs vs. Memphis
- 18 pts, 8 rebs vs. Dallas
- 17 pts, 11 rebs vs. OKC
- 14 pts, 6 rebs vs. Sacramento
- 22 pts, 7 rebs vs. Clippers
- 12 pts, 7 rebs, vs Minnesota
Total for the month so far: 18.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG on 54% overall FG shooting and 42% 3-point shooting.
That's a difference-maker right there. Dudley's looking more confident and comfortable as a starting NBA shooting guard in his first season in the role. There was never much doubt the man can shoot; his career 41% 3-point shooting rivals that of Nash. But Dudley relentlessly continues to improve his game, showing better ball handling and ability to create his own shot. It's been impressive to see and if Dudley can keep it up, that will be a huge boost to the Suns playoff chances.
Though both teams figure to struggle with energy tonight, since both played last night, it's unlikely the game follows the course of the last match up between these two teams. Griffin wasn't the only Clipper to have a poor game then. Chris Paul went for only 16 points and 5 assists while being hounded by Grant Hill, and the Clippers scored 31 points in the second and third quarters combined. Sure, there was good defense in that game, but also some terrible shooting. Don't expect to see the same tonight.
The primary deciding factor in tonight's game, though, will be what kind of production the Suns get out of their team captains and oldest players Nash and Hill. Can they go 20-30 minutes? Will Gentry bench them completely to save them for tomorrow night's game versus the Pistons? No word as of yet, but stay to tuned to Bright Side of the Sun for an update when the news breaks.
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